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September 8, 2008

Me, My Church, and I

Referring to Barack Obama's "above my pay grade" response to Rick Warren at the Saddleback forum last month, Tom Brokaw asked Joe Biden on Meet the Press yesterday how he would instruct his ticketmate on the question of when life begins. "I'd say," Biden said:

"Look, I know when it begins for me." It's a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths--Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others--who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They're intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life--I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society."

The role of a church's teaching in American electoral politics is a complex thing. Back in 1960, John F. Kennedy had to make clear that he would not take orders from the pope, and pointedly disagreed with the American Catholic hierarchy on its two top priority issues: aid to parochial schools and an ambassador to the Vatican. Forty-four years later, disagreeing with his church on abortion put John Kerry crossways with the very same people--conservative evangelicals--who were troubled by JFK's Catholicism.

The JFK/Kerry contrast is easy enough to follow. A subtler situation is that of Virginia's Catholic Gov. Tim Kaine, who made it clear, in his 2005 race, that his opposition to the death penalty was rooted in his Catholicism; and that seemed a lot easier for the very pro-death penalty electorate to stomach than if he had simply declared that he was against the death penalty because he believed it was wrong. As Princeton's wise old scholar of American religious history John Wilson likes to point out, pointing to the teachings of one's religion is as likely to ease tension over policy differences among citizens as to exacerbate them.

So what I'm wondering is this. What if a Barack Obama, instead of flying solo on the deeply controverted moral issue of abortion, simply said that he embraced the position of his denomination--the United Church of Christ; to wit:

The United Church of Christ has affirmed and re-affirmed since 1971 that access to safe and legal abortion is consistent with a woman’s right to follow the dictates of her own faith and beliefs in determining when and if she should have children, and it has supported comprehensive sexuality education as one measure to prevent unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, and to create healthy and responsible sexual persons and relationships. (General Synods VIII, IX, XI, XII, XIII, XVI, XVII, and XVIII)
We have also supported that women with limited financial means should be able to receive public funding in order to exercise her legal right to the full range of reproductive health services. What is legally available to women must be accessible to all women.

The United Church of Christ is one of the founding faith groups of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, formed in 1973 as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. Over the years, RCRC has continued to bring a strong voice of faith on the moral and religious issues that swirl around public debate over abortion, contraception and pregnancy prevention. Because there are many religious and theological perspectives on when life and personhood begin, the UCC joins others in advocating that public policy must honor this rich religious diversity. Our position is not a pro-abortion position but a pro-faith, pro-family and pro-woman position.

My guess is that hewing to the position of his church--which is, in fact, his position--would sit more easily with many pro-life Americans who themselves are influenced, as Joe Biden says he is, by their church's teaching. (Incidentally, I also suspect that Mitt Romney would have done better with pro-life evangelicals had he embraced embryonic stem-cell research--like the entire Mormon contingent in the U.S. Senate--on the grounds that his church teaches that "ensoulment" only occurs at implantation.) The point that Biden was at pains to make is that opposition to abortion is a religious teaching, but one that not all religious groups subscribe to; and in America we don't impose religious teachings on those who don't subscribe to them. There are counterarguments, of course, but this is a powerful argument to counter.

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

Comments

That is what would be Joe Biden's point of view today. Can't wait to hear what he has to say tomorrow. If you don't like what Joe Biden has to say wait a day or two it'll change.

I BELONG TO A UCC CHURCH, BUT I WILL FIGHT AGAINST THEIR NONSENSE AS THEY COMPROMISE GOD'S WORD IN SO MANY RESPECTS, FOR THE SAKE OF HONORING "RICH RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY"!
THERE ARE STILL SOME CHRISTIANS IN THE UCC WHO FIGHT FOR BIBLICAL TRUTH AND PRINCIPLES. THERE ARE STILL SOME WHO ARE HANGING ON FOR REVIVAL. THERE ARE MANY WHO HAVE LEFT THE UCC, CHURCHES HAVE DROPPED THE UCC...SO PRAY FOR REVIVAL IN THE UCC...
WE ARE TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER, RESPECT SOMEONE ELSE'S RELIGION, AND BE YE KIND ONE TO ANOTHER, BUT EXCUSE ME, THE UCC DOESN'T SPEAK FOR ME, JUST AS WHEN I WAS A TEACHER, THE TEACHER UNION HAD NO RIGHT TO SPEAK FOR ME. A CHRISTIAN HAS CHOICE TO DO RIGHT. PLEASE DO NOT HELP A PERSON COMMIT THE ACT OF ABORTION OR TELL THEM IT IS THEIR CHOICE. THAT IS A VIOLENCE AGAINST A WOMAN, AND AGAINST CHILDREN IN THE CHURCH LEARNING RIGHT FROM WRONG. HOW CAN A CONSCIENCE BE FORMED IF THE CHURCH DOESN'T TEACH RIGHT FROM WRONG? NO MATTER HOW 'WELL INTENTIONED', IT IS MISGUIDED TO AID IN ABORTIONS.
I ATTEND WORSHIP TO WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH. I AM SORRY THE UCC ABANDONED THE TRUTH, BUT THERE ARE MANY FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST WHO HAVE "UNITY IN THE SPIRIT"...NOT THE UCC'S
"spirit of unity". THERE ARE FAR TOO MANY PREACHERS IN THIS ORGANIZATION THAT HAVE ONLY OPINION TO OFFER, AND HAVE ABANDONED TEACHING THE WORD OF GOD. MUCH LIKE THE NONSENSE YOU SEE AND HEAR IN THE SO CALLED NEWS, THIS IS NEW AGE ALIVE AND WELL...IT IS HUMANISM, IT IS ABOUT BUILDING THE TOWER OF BABEL, BUT USING LANGUAGE THAT APPEALS, AND FOOLS JUST ABOUT EVERYONE. IT'S ALSO ABOUT THEOLOGY...LIBERATION THEOLOGY. THIS IS NOT THE KINGDOM OF GOD AS LONG AS PEOPLE THINK THAT A WOMAN HAS THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE DEATH FOR THE CHILD THAT IS IN HER. NO LIFE SHOULD BE SACRIFICED FOR CONVENIENCE. WITH EXCEPTIONS SO FEW, THIS IS BABY KILLING. IS CHRIST HONORED AND LIFTED UP? STAND UP PEOPLE AND DO NOT BUY INTO LIES OF THIS CULTURE THAT KNOWS NOT THE TRUTH BUT SPEAKS THE LOUDEST.

The United Church of Christ statement quoted above explicitly calls for public funding of elective abortion. That is indeed Obama's position, too, and by all means, he should highlight it more, because it will provide one more illustration of the phoniness of his recent talk about "abortion reduction."

One policy that both sides agree actually has substantially REDUCED the number of abortions performed in the United States was the cutoff of Medicaid funding for abortion on demand. There are various empirical studies that demonstrate that many children have been born, who would otherwise have been aborted, because Medicaid funding of abortion has been denied by the federal Hyde Amendment, and by the comparable policies in effect in the majority of states. By the most conservative estimate, the federal Hyde Amendment alone has saved over one million lives since it was first enacted in 1976. Both sides agree that this has occurred -- indeed, the pro-abortion side cites these studies in urging Congress and state legislatures to repeal these pro-life policies, while pro-life groups see this as a success story.

Well, here is a proven "abortion reduction" policy, so is Obama for it? No, he is not -- because all that "abortion-reduction" talk is just pixie dust to distract the gullible. Obama advocates repeal of the Hyde Amendment (and as a state senator, he voted against restricting state funding of elective abortions). Moreover, in 2007 Obama gave a speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in which he promised abortion would be covered in his national health care plan, which means that everybody would be required to pay for elective abortion through taxes, mandatory premiums, or both. In addition, he is a cosponsor of the "Freedom of Choice Act," which provides that "A government may not . . . discriminate against" abortion "in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information," which is hardly a law that will foster "abortion reduction."

As I recall, the UCC opposed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Obama also opposes this law, so he should take every opportunity to inform the public that he agrees with his church on that issue as well.

Obama has defended a vision of "abortion rights" that is more expansive than that adopted by the Supreme Court or held by most defenders of Roe v. Wade. This is illustrated, for example, by Obama's actions in the Illinois state Senate in 2001-2003, when he successfully led the opposition to a bill to merely provide protection for babies who are born alive during abortions. (The bill that Obama opposed was virtually identical to a federal bill that passed Congress without a single dissenting vote in 2002.) Obama said, in 2001, that it would violate Roe v. Wade to recognize what he called a "previable fetus" as a person -- even when that human is entirely born, and alive. Recognizing that most Americans would recoil at his notion even a fully born aborted infant is still covered by Roe v. Wade, Obama has been making demonstrably false claims about the bill ever since, as National Right to Life shows in a thoroughly documented White Paper that we released on August 28, 2008, which can be read or downloaded here: http://www.nrlc.org/ObamaBAIPA/WhitePaperAugust282008.html

I won't tell people how to act, who to worship, etc. etc.
Abortion is about life and death. That's why it's different. That's why keeping it legal and safe doesn't work for me, even if it infringes on someone elses "rights". If I decided to kill my son 30 seconds after being born everyone would have a problem with that. They would infringe on my desire because it was an issue of life and death.
What if I don't think you're really a person until you can exist on your own, and I don't mean just breathing but really going out into the world and taking care of yourself. After internalizing that belief, my wife decides to kill her two year old child who was a result of rape or incest because his existence was just too painful for her to deal with. Biden would disagree with our definition of when life begins, would he do anything about it then? Who is he to tell me I can't do that?

Change the issue to slavery instead of abortion and Senator Biden's well-crafted statement would be seen as riduculous.

It amazes me how simple the issue of abortion is, and how complex we make it. Although he went insane later in life, Dr. Seuss put it in simple, yet easy to understand terms that we all can understand. Horton who hears a Who said "a life is precious, no matter how small". The way I determine someone's faith, value of life, and their overall world view is in the way they value the Dr's Statem
ent.

Obama/Biden does not hold those values.